Another "radical move" by a classic artist, here is the formula for success…
Great Classic Soul Shouter + Great Pop Songs + Great Band
Sounds like the formula for Tina Turner as a solo artist, doesn't it???
Well maybe it was and maybe it wasn't, however that is EXACTLY what is happening here. You take Ms. Bettye LaVette, perhaps the greatest unknown SOUL SINGER of her generation and use this formula to propel her straight out of "white boy blues heaven" and into the stratosphere where she truly belongs. A few years ago I stated in a review "Bettye LaVette's voice occupies the space right between Aretha Franklin's voice and Etta James voice". Now isn't that one hell of a thing to say? I made that statement about her LIVE "tour de' force" entitled "Let Me Down Easy". Since that time of course Bettye LaVette has gone on to win a WC Handy Award and to become a fixture on the modern day blues circuit around the country and around the world.
But wait…Bettye LaVette isn't a "Blues singer", I mean she is stone cold hardcore Detroit, not Mississippi. Blame that on the way that Soul Singers have to be marketed nowadays. They have to be marketed as if they are "Robert Cray", when in fact they should be marketed as if they were "Barbara Streisand"!!! Chalk that one up to the reality of demographics and marketing of the current century we are in. Give her some songs written by the cream of the crop of the best female pop songwriters of the past 20 years (Sinead O'Connor, Lucinda Williams, Joan
Armatrading, Sharon Robinson, Rosanne Cash, Cathy Majeski/John Scott Sherrill, Dolly Parton, Aimee Mann, Toni Brown, Fiona Apple) and just let Bettye WAIL AWAY, while she is backed up by a super nasty band.
And that is what this album is. Nothing more and nothing less, right???
Ah…. But there is more to the story, because what Bettye does with these pop songs is literally steal them from their authors and make them her own and that's the magic of this album. I probably shouldn't say that. But it's the truth, and I'm told that the truth will set you free. Much like Jimi Hendrix took any damn song, written by another artist that he covered and took complete and total ownership of it, that is what Bettye LaVette does on the CD entitled "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise". And "raise hell" with these songs is EXACTLY what she does.
I saw Bettye LaVette sing these songs LIVE @ Joe's Pub in NYC just a few weeks ago and she turned in one of the best LIVE female SOUL performances that I have seen in a while. I probably shouldn't say that either. But it's the truth, and I'm told that the truth will set you free.
You wanna be free? Then you need the TRUTH
Then do yourself a favor, don't sleep on this album
By definition, a terrorist inflicts damage. Bettye LaVette inflicted some serious damage to the little box that all of the "black music experts" out there would like to keep Soul music inside of. That "little box" is now battered, disfigured and perhaps changed forever
What a GREAT night for Bettye LaVette!!!!
She truly rocked the house. It was PACKED. Lots of journalists and celebrities were in the house also. My thanks to everyone involved in putting together tonight's show. Thanks to Joe's Pub for providing the perfect venue to launch Bettye's new CD. We met lots of old friends and some new ones as well. The highlight of the evening was of course when Bettye sang Happy Birthday to Soul-Patrol's own Cheryl Russell.
I just wanted to let yall know what a great time I had at this show.
That's right; she came to Joe's Pub and…
Bettye LaVette made a grand entrance to the stage with her slinky and yet shapely body squeezed into a "f*ck me dress, shoes to match, ready to take on all comers…". In other words it's one of those kind of nights that 10 years from now, 100,000 people will say they were at, but we all know that would have been impossible…..lol. Bettye LaVette did everything but actually light the match that would have burned Joe's Pub down to the ground last night my friends.
Now if I actually knew how to write a concert review like a "black music expert" for the mass media, I might say something like…
"She easily transcended musical genres in a way that might suggest that terms like swamp-rock, slow jams, country-blues, funk-rock, and pop really ought not be located in separate sections of the record store, but just need to be located in a section called Bettye LaVette, simply for ease of use by the customer."
Since I have no mass media training on how to write a review, let me just say that she STANK THE JOINT UP…
It was wall-to-wall 360 degrees of FUNK, even in moments of quiet and solitude.
It was in her voice
It was in her face
It was in her body
And she laid her naked soul out there on that stage. All you had to do is be prepared to receive it. People were on their feet. People were on their knees. People were on the floor
She sang and made you feel her pain, when it counted. She sang and made you feel her joy when it counted
Here is the set list...
* The Stealer
* He Made a Woman out of me
* Joy (Lucinda Williams)
* Down To Zero (Joan Armatrading)
* The High Road
* You're Turn To Cry
* Little Sparrow
* How Different
* Just Say So
* Right in the Middle
* Sleep To Dream (Fiona Apple)
* I do not Want (encore)
So what does this set list tell us??? Not much because in the end, it's just a listing of songs, right??? One of the issues with using text as a medium is that text makes it impossible to convey a sense of emotion. It's just a two dimensional representation of the truth. When attempting to describe a performance of Bettye LaVette a two dimensional representation ends up being the same thing as no representation at all. To experience Bettye LaVette, it is required that you utilize all of your senses and use them and actually become a multi-dimensional person for yourself. And she requires that you use those senses in the proper way. Beacuse make no mistake about it...
::::THERE IS A PROPER WAY::::::
I reviewed one of Bettye's CD's a few years ago and I described her voice as occupying that little space between the voices of Etta James and Aretha Franklin…" That was on a CD, last night I saw her do that live, and in addition to the great voice, I also got to see her facial descriptions and movements as they changed depending on the topic/sub topic that resonated thru each song. The contortions of her face, while she is singing speak volumes on the subject matter and force you to connect with her as she takes you through the full range of human emotion, with each and every song.
Some people like their truth to be distilled through a filter.
If you are one of those types of people I would suggest that you look elsewhere for whatever truth you need in order for you to make it through the day. You would be disappointed in Bettye LaVette.
I am one of those types of people who needs the truth to be raw. I'll look for mine through the unfiltered lens provided by the music of Bettye LaVette. You see, I know that everyone isn't yet ready to receive Bettye LaVette.
:::BUT THEY HAD BETTA GET READY:::
Bettye LaVette is celebrating her 44th year in show business this year. She is primed to become an "overnight success" in the world of pop music, and if there is any justice in this world, that is exactly what is going to happen to her in 2005.
And oh by the way, she's got a new CD too, but I've run out of space, so I'll have to write about that later...
Last week I referred to Betty Lavette as the "Female Mighty Sam".
I meant that in the most positive way and since I know that she's here reading this, hopefully she will take that description in the most positive way possible.
I use that comparison here to you the members of Soul patrol, since most of you are quite familiar with the story of "Mighty" Sam McClain's career and how he "fell through the cracks".
Bettye Lavette has had a similar story
Apparently she is popular on the "Blues Circuit" both here and aboard, so I'm sure that there are people who will try to tell us that she is a "Blues Singer"?
Some may even go so far as to classify her as a "Blues/Soul Singer".
Despite these attempts to place her in some "marketing category", I'm gonna tell yall this…
Bettye Lavette is a 100%, pure unadulterated SOUL SINGER, singing the type of "soul music" that I used to listen to when I was a little kid on WWRL (and take it from me, they didn't play NO BLUES on WWRL in the mid 1960's)
If it's comparisons you are looking for, just think of the space right between Etta James and Aretha Franklin and that's right where you will find Bettye Lavette.
There is P-O-W-E-R in this woman's voice
Here is my track by track review of this LIVE album, which was recorded at the Muziekcentrum in Vredenburg, Utrect, Holland on 9/23/99
This song starts out as if it's going to be one of those "imitation BB King instrumentals as performed by Eric Clapton"
Then Bettye comes in and starts singing about the glories of "her man". This was her very first single, released in 1964
DAMN YOUR EYES
This song is about the power of love and how sometimes you can be compelled to fall in love, even when YOU KNOW that it's going to end up being a bad thing for you. Bettye makes us feel the PAIN of that situation and reminds us just what a tormented feeling that can be. None of which is a surprise on this classic originally recorded by Etta James
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
This song vaguely sounds familiar to me. It sounds like the kind of record that might have come out on the STAX label in 1968, covered by Bonnie Raitt and performed during the grand finale at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies. It is of course none of those, "Right In The Middle" is a song that was in fact released by Motown, whom Bettye signed with in 1982
YOU'LL NEVER CHANGE
Starting off with a FUNKY Bassline that would make Bootsy Collins proud, this is one of those kind of songs where Bettye is talking DIRECTLY to her man.
"It's a PITTY and a SHAME that you'll NEVER change…"
Believe me, whomever this man is, he is in BIG TROUBLE with bettye (and it sounds like he EARNED it…..lol)
"the saddest word I ever heard was ALMOST…"
This song kinda sounds a little bit like Wilson Pickett's "Don't let The Green Grass Fool ya" in places, with a very sweet and subtle guitar playing in the backround
YOUR TURN TO CRY (YOUR TIME TO CRY)
SERIOUS stuff here folks…
"I even gave up right for wrong, tryin to get along with you…"
This song (with female backround singers) sounds like the "Emotions on Downers". But it's not Blues, it's a sad and soulful tale of a breakup, where she is telling that "man" (boy do I feel sorry for him) that he had better start crying
This song, according to the liner notes:
"which many consider her best performance on record ever - was recorded in Muscle Shoals and was part of an album. Titled Child Of The Seventies, this would have been the first album in her career. It was never released"
HE MADE A WOMAN OUT OF ME
This song starts out sounding like Chuck Berry's "Memphis". The story in this song has a lot in common with Betty Wright's "Tonight's The Night". It's an old story about the loss of virginity
"I used to tease Joe Henry, I guess I teased too hard, 'cause one day it all happened right in my own backyard".
According to the liner notes:
"It hit no. 25 on the r&b chart, although the record was banned by radio stations in several places. The subsequent cover version by white singer Bobby Gentry was a pop hit in 1970."
See why I call her the "Female Mighty Sam"?
LET ME DOWN EASY
Yet another song of a failed relationship. Listening to bettye's voice you can hear the SHEER PAIN of it all, as the organ player sounds like he is playing in church…
The liner notes say:
"Her debut release for Nate McCalla's fledgling Calla label "Let Me Down Easy", became a top 20 r&b hit in April 1965. It still stands out as a masterpiece; a miracle of deeply layered sadness and can be considered to be one of the finest soul songs ever"
I'm not gonna say too much more about Bettye's life story or career here.
She's right here on The Soul Patrol Mailing List so you can ask her yourself.
However I will say this much about her that I learned from the liner notes of "Let Me Down Easy/In Concert".
Bettye Lavette is the co-writer of my FAVORITE Stevie Wonder song, Hey Love.
That simple fact tells you just how close she came to being one of the most famous artists of her generation. The fact that we didn't even realize it before, tells us just how thin the line between total obscurity and fame really is?